Lucy's Reviews > Bel Canto

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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Sep 11, 2007

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Read in October, 2007

This book came highly recommended, and once I started reading, I kept thinking I had already but couldn't, for the life of me, remember how it ended. Turns out, it only seemed familiar to me because it is based on a real life experience. In 1995, the president of Peru and many of his guests were taken hostage and held for months. Bel Canto is a fictitious story based loosely on those events.

I only liked Bel Canto. I understand its appeal - the coming together of hostages and terrorists alike, but the writing was a bit too ethereal and romantic for me. SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if it's the universal band-aid. I know a lot of people that don't enjoy opera at all. In fact, a music lover myself, I'd have to admit that most of opera is an acquired taste. The hugeness of the voice, the strong vibrato and foreign languages take some getting used to. However, according to the author, there is no politician, businessman, servant or gunman that doesn't fall into a deep state of hypnosis when a soprano begins her song. I tend to think that perhaps the terrorist from a South American country, where musical tastes are a bit different, might not have been so cast under her spell, but I could be wrong. I've never thought of it as the only offered solace to a terrifying situation.

Which leads me to the other thing that I find a hard time believing. Terrorists...with guns....coming through air vents into a vice presidential palace and no one seems particularly petrified throughout it all. Again, I think this was the author's way of romanticizing the event by leaving out the crapping of pants and desperate pleas for loved ones, but everyone was annoyingly contrite and calm, even the terrorists themselves, who seemed awfully nice and understanding.

The end was appropriately tragic. I read a few reviews that described this as an example of magical realism, a genre I try and avoid so this labeling surprised me. Maybe all the lack of fear, suspended time and happy hostage household was part of it. The ending, while sad and tragic, satisfied my need for logic and realism. This event seemed to have a larger psychological effect on the survivors then the original hostage takeover. Whether or not that is realistic or not, I have no idea.

I wish she hadn't written her epilogue. It was unnecessary and unbelievable. Sort of like how all doctors on a hospital television show end up as couples, as if there were no one else in the world to date or socialize with. (view spoiler).

The book as a whole, however, is not void of greatness. The Russian cabinet member and his story of the box was poetic. Cesar's natural talent and love of performing made me cheer. And the inward look at most regarding their professions and priorities was very appropriate.

All combined, it makes for an enjoyable, flawed book.

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01/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by KED (new) - rated it 5 stars

KED As someone who LOVED this book, I have to say I didn't hate the epilogue, and it seems like I'm the only one. I also thought it was not a happy, let's-wrap-it-up-neat-and-tidy ending. I thought it was meant to be tragic and sad. That they were both so desperately trying to cling to the the scraps of the person they loved and lost that they married the only person who could remind them and understand. It was a sad resignation that they would never love again and to enter into a life-long companionship rather than to try to move on from the grief.


message 2: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee i totally agree with your comment about the epilogue, but you might want to mark that as a spoiler, since its pivotal to the story and if I hadn't read the book, and read your review, I'd be extremely fustrated by that


Elfear I think that I needed some kind of epilogue to provide some closure. But Gen and Roxanne together was just weird. Also I agree with Dee that this was a bit of spoiler! Please at least note earlier that there will be spoilers.


Janine Barzyk Ackerman Just finished this book and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one that thinks the Epilogue was crazy...


She' M Terrorists taking parties hostage has been a common theme in Central / South America. Something similar also happened in Nicaragua. With that in mind, I think it makes the story more believable instead of just loosely based on real events.


Angie Hood I love ethereal, romantic writing. Perhaps that's what I love about this book. The epilogue was hard to swallow but made me take a hard look at what I would do in that situation...


Danica "SO much emphasis placed on opera, as if it's the universal band-aid. " Couldn't have said it better myself!


Amie I've been waiting to read your whole review until I finished the book. I agree with you, again....


Tiffini This is the exact review I would have written if I were as eloquent as you. Well done.


April KED I like your reasoning for Gen and Roxane getting married. Even though I have a need for closure I Gen and Roxane together doesn't make sense.


message 11: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin I read this review AFTER reading the book and I agree with Tiffini... this is the review I would have written had I been able to form the words so well!!


Maceline Thanks for the spoilers. Won't be reading it now. Be careful people. Please.


Kelli I think this book is best enjoyed if you have watched a dozen or more operas because instead of thinking "too much opera" the reader thinks that the story is all about Opera. I'm not sure if I can explain this well but in operas big stories happen quickly. People fall in love, plot, betray one another, and the story ends in a bloody duel or suicide without much character development. The music in opera is all about conveying emotions so the emotions in a story are brought to the forefront too quickly for a film or other entertainment venue. For example the intensity of the relationship between Mimi and Rodulfo in La Boheme would come off as ridiculous without Puccinni's music. In Bel Canto the characters are stuck in an intense situation and can not communicate so there is no way to connect emotionally. The music provides the expression of emotions that the characters can connect with. The music brings them together just like the diverse crowd in the audience at the opera house. Lyric Opera Chicago often interviews patrons as they leave the building to create a promotional clip. When asked what they loved about the show, they often speak of the emotions. The story in Bell Canto flowed like an opera (a slow one) to me, that's what made it smart.

I also didn't like the epilogue because I felt that the reader should have been left in that final operatic scene.

A composer from South America,Jimmy Lopez, has created an opera from this book and it will premier in Chicago next month. I expect the epilogue to be absent.


Kelli A composer from South America,Jimmy Lopez, has created an opera from this book and it will premier in Chicago next month. I expect the epilogue to be absent.


Frosty Freya Your review is so incisive and I can't dispute a single point. And yet. I loved the book. I even gave it 5 stars. I feel like I should downgrade it but not yet, while I'm still under the spell. I loved that this book dismissed in a second all the monsterization of "terrorists", as though they couldn't possibly be human (unlike our wonderful compatriots-with-license-to-kill). I love it when words fill with fragrances and tastes and textures and harmonies, and I'll willingly suspend disbelief to submit to the ministrations of an author who can massage them as Patchett does in this fiction. A wonderful read, as is your review which eased me back to reality and reminded me that it was all just a fanciful dream.


message 16: by Lisa (last edited Dec 25, 2016 01:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Frosty ... you stated exactly how I'm feeling after reading this wonderful review!!! I loved the book and want to like it still, but this review by Lucy, woah, you are so right! and so funny!


message 17: by Fred (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred R I also had reservations about the epilogue, but the next morning I reflected that I have never been held hostage for five or six months with a group of gifted international (mostly) male captives and young, fairly malleable captors. Four and a half stars isn't a choice, so I'm sticking with five.


Jackie Wow! Thanks for mentioning the real life event in Peru. It was interesting to read this article and see all the parallels - http://mobile.nytimes.com/1997/04/26/...


Kellee Thanks for sharing the New York Times article!


message 20: by Elaine (new) - added it

Elaine Lazar "Most days there was something she wanted, and while the Generals could care less..."

COULD care less? How could Ms. Patchett make this egregious, jarring error?


message 21: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Elaine, would you explain the egregiousness of this error? I want to be as offended as you! =)


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